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Hobbs declares heat state of emergency in Maricopa, Pinal, Coconino counties

Posted 8/12/23

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is declaring an heat state of emergency — but only of three of Arizona’s 15 counties.

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Hobbs declares heat state of emergency in Maricopa, Pinal, Coconino counties


PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is declaring a heat state of emergency — but only of three of Arizona’s 15 counties.

And it all has to do with the National Weather Service and how it determines “excessive heat.”

The declaration issued Friday for Maricopa, Pinal and Coconino counties is based on the federal agency issued excessive heat warnings for 30 consecutive days. That provided a legal basis for the governor to decide the situation had reached emergency levels.

What the declaration does is frees up $200,000 that can be used to reimburse local government agencies in those counties for additional costs they have incurred between June 30 and July 30 related to the heat.

According to the National Weather Service, the general rule of thumb for this warning is when the maximum heat index temperature — what it feels like for the human body — is expected to be 105 degrees or higher for at least two days, and night time air temperatures will not drop below 75 degrees.

But Sean Benedict, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Phoenix, said a decision to issue an excessive heat warning is based on more than absolute temperatures. He said it also includes factors like what is “normal” for an area.

Benedict also said the Flagstaff area includes the Grand Canyon, not just the rim but also the floor. And Patrice Horstman, who chairs the board of supervisors, said the mercury there this summer topped 115, “contributing to multiple heat-related hiker deaths and injuries in July.”

The rest of the state isn’t being entirely left out.

Hobbs on Friday issued a separate executive order requiring various state agencies to develop plans for future excessive heat situations.

Most of that, however, involves developing proposals and programs that won’t be ready for months.

For example, the Governor’s Office of Resiliency is charged with developing an “extreme heat response plan” by March, one designed to ensure the state is prepared to respond to — and recover from — extreme heat in future years. The same agency is supposed to propose changes in state law designed to protect the elderly, children, medically vulnerable and other impacted communities from extreme heat.

And Hobbs is providing the agency with $13.3 million of federal dollars to prevent power outages and to improve the resilience of the grid across the state.

The state health director is supposed to develop a plan to allocate resources to respond to extreme heat, ranging from emergency room use and heat-related workplace incidents to morgue capacity and and distribution of cooling and heat-relief centers.

But her executive order does include opening two new cooling centers near the Capitol where many homeless gather, one in an existing office building and another in a cooled storage container that is specially equipped to provide short-term heat relief. Neither, however, will be open on a 24-hour basis.

Local officials in the three counties getting the state of emergency praised the move.

“This has been a brutally hot summer so far in Pinal County,” said supervisor Jeffrey McClure in a prepared statement released by the governor’s office. “We welcome any support that the governor and the state can offer that can help provide relief to our residents.”

In Maricopa County, Robert Rowley, director of its division of emergency management, said the county’s Human Services Department has been providing additional funds for cooling and respite centers. It also has been spending money in home and air conditioner repair for those who cannot afford it.

Horstman said the record heat in her county “took a toll on our unsheltered population.”